In my favourite weekly email from Travel Zoo I received notification that flights from Brisbane to Cairns (one way) were $65. We have to go! Booked, done. 4 days in Cairns and Port Douglas sounded like a nice little break. Upon Googling what there is to do in and around the area, I became a bit nervous – this was going to be one busy little break! I could not believe how much there was to do, it was a bit overwhelming.
We arrived at The Rydges Tradewinds around 1am on Wednesday morning. The hotel is located in a prime position on the Esplanade facing the beach, however that’s about all it has going for it. Spoiler alert: I would not recommend this hotel at all, whatsoever. We splurged on the hotels we stayed in, and I would like every cent I paid for this place back; it was disgusting and the staff are rude. However, the balcony facing the ocean allowed us to watch a beautiful sunrise.
We had a snazzy little Toyota Yaris hire car and we were off to visit the Atherton Tablelands and the Waterfall Circuit. First stop, the Curtain Fig Tree at Yungaburra. It was over an hour’s drive to Yungaburra from Cairns, and we arrived around 7am which was well before anything opened in this old and quaint little country town. This is understandable, however I was shocked at how little information there was about the Curtain Fig Tree, considering this is one of the area’s major drawcards. We gave up on the local information centre and ended up throwing it into the GPS and eventually found it. The tree is beautiful, one of the biggest trees in North Queensland, set in beautiful national park it is stunning.
Next we drove to Atherton to see The Crystal Caves which is a man-made cave underneath a shop on the main street, showing off a private collection of crystals but done in a very authentic cave-like experience (you even get a miners helmet with light!). The shop is full of stunning crystals and gems, and products made from them. The Caves were very well done, and I’m glad that the collector decided to share with the public. If I had have had a few spare thousand dollars I definitely could have spent some serious dollars in the shop!!
Leaving Atherton we followed the Waterfall Circuit to Millaa Millaa Falls, one of the most photographed waterfalls in Australia, and on to Zillie Falls and Ellinjaa Falls. Be warned, Millaa Millaa Falls looks huge however is quite small, but is perfect. You can swim in the water, and in the late afternoon you might be lucky enough to see platypus swimming!
Our last stop for the day was Paronella Park, an historic site of a Spanish family that built their dreams. The site features a “castle”, historic buildings, a massive lake with a waterfall, gardens and Queensland’s first hydro-electric plant. It’s about an hour and a half drive from Cairns. I have to admit that I was disappointed with this site. It’s been voted the #1 Must Do in Queensland, but I don’t believe it lived up to it’s hype, especially considering that it costs nearly $50 per person to get into the site. There’s a small cafe on site but it only serves snacks. In the lake there are massive fish, huge eels and turtles, and upon entry you are given approximately 1 handful of food to feed them, which was definitely not enough. The value for money just wasn’t there for me, but I could see how it would be for locals as the entry fee included return admission for 2 years I believe. Summarily though, I didn’t feel it was strikingly different to what there is to see in the area that can be seen for free.
The following day was spent in Cairns itself, which has an amazingly vibrant feel. It’s a great place for everyone – couples, backpackers, families, grey nomads; there’s something for everyone. The place is so pretty, with the boardwalk on the Esplanade overlooking the water, to the shops adjacent (check out the Night Markets, for some awesome souvenirs!), to the huge marina with beautiful boats, to the lagoon pool on the beach edge. During the time we were there the Cairns Festival was on, which is a month-long celebration of the talented locals, with so much to do including movies in the park in the evening, shows day and night, and local art.
That afternoon we took a tour boat to Green Island in the Outer Great Barrier Reef. Our tour was booked with Great Adventures who were fantastic. $88 got us a 45 minute boat ride to the island, our choice of glass bottom boat tour or snorkeling (we did both, all activities are available for purchase on the island) plus free time on the island. We had chosen the 1pm-4:30pm tour which was just enough time for us, however in hindsight it perhaps would have been better to take an earlier tour, as the afternoon sun did make for the ocean being just a bit too chilly to be comfortable. There is a resort on the island which you can stay at, as well as pools, cafes, lockers, eco walks, a melanesia, sea walking, parasailing, helicopter rides and shops that are open for day visitors to use. I definitely recommend the visit, and if you have a family it would be worth it to stay the whole day as there is plenty to see and do.
That night we took the picturesque drive to Port Douglas. An amazing drive with so many places to stop along the way and take pictures of our perfect coastline. We stayed at the Ramada Port Douglas which is a beautiful rainforest-themed resort about 5 minutes drive from the main street. The resort was great, very pretty with an awesome pool featuring it’s own waterfall, and a restaurant right on the pool and a pool bar. Four Mile Beach is only a 5 minute walk away. The only downside to the resort is the WiFi is poor and not available in the rooms unless you pay for it, and reception is very poor in the area in general. The pool is also not heated, so can be surprisingly cold.
The following day we took a drive to the Daintree Rainforest with the only expectation to head up to Cape Tribulation. Along the way we stumbled across some Daintree River Cruises so we stopped and checked them out. Most tourist things in the area are quite expensive so I was impressed to learn that a 1 hour river cruise was only $25 per person! We chose Solar Whisper, a solar electric boat that is very quite. Dave, our guide, was extremely knowledgeable about the area and crocodiles. I wasn’t expecting to see any crocodiles but within 5 minutes we came across our first one! Dave can spot them a mile away, I swear. He also has a camera and television on board to show you up-close footage of the crocodiles you see. We were impressed that we saw about 8 or 9 different wild crocs, which was a very awesome experience.
Following our cruise, we continued on towards Cape Tribulation. There is a ferry which costs $25 to get you over the river, and plenty to do on the way but David (my fiancee) had been sick since before we even got on the plane, and was feeling particularly bad that day. I wasn’t feeling too flash either so we decided not to continue the extra 40km to Cape Tribulation and headed back to the hotel.
On the morning of our final day we went back to the main street of Port Douglas for a look during the day time, and came across Sunday markets on the water. It was a typical upmarket tourist market but they did have some amazing stuff. I particularly fell in love with the photography of Martin Willis Photographs and was able to purchase this amazing picture. I could have spent so much money on his work though, absolutely stunning.
Following the markets, after getting slightly washed out by the tropical rain, it was time to head back towards Cairns. We drove up the mountain to Kuranda as we had planned to visit the BatReach centre- I love bats so much. The website directed us to Kuranda Information where I was informed that the centre was closed for renovations and had been for some time. I could have pulled the guy across the counter and slapped him! Not his fault, but surely the website could have been updated! We wandered around Kuranda for a while, and saw the Skyrail going through the trees, making me glad I hadn’t shelled out all that money to go on it. Be warned in Kuranda, pretty much everywhere accepts only cash.
My time in Cairns was absolutely amazing, and I have resolved to go back as soon as practical – you need at least a week to spend, if not two to allow for some relaxation time. Everywhere you go, the views are amazing, and we are so lucky to have a country that has the natural settings we have.
Please note I am not paid to endorse anything in this post, this is all personal opinion.